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Pogonotrophy

Pronounced /ˌpəʊɡəˈnɒtrəfi/Help with pronunciation

Do not — as a British journalist did some years ago — confuse this useful word with pogonotomy. Both originate in the Greek word pogon, a beard, but the latter ends in –tomia, cutting, and so is the word for trimming one’s beard, or shaving, the exact opposite of the writer’s intention.

Pogonotrophy, on the other hand, ends with Greek trophe, nourishment, so its literal sense is “beard feeding”, though it it may better be glossed as growing a beard or cultivating one.

Sam Brinkley was perhaps the world’s greatest authority on pogonotrophy. That’s right, pogonotrophy, the science of beard growing. Sam didn’t start out to be an authority. As a young man he simply became disgusted with the speed with which his beard grew.

Scoundrels, Rogues and Heroes of the Old North State, by Dr H G Jones, 2007.

Another word in pogon appeared in the UK in August 2013 following the appearance of the BBC television presenter Jeremy Paxman on screen in hirsute state, causing his beard to trend on Twitter. He was quoted:

Unless you’re lucky enough to be Uncle Albert on Only Fools And Horses, Demis Roussos or Abu Hamza, the BBC is generally as pogonophobic as the late-lamented Albanian dictator, Enver Hoxha.

The Independent, 14 Aug. 2013.

To be pogonophobic is to be afraid of beards, a modern creation — I can’t find an example before the 1980s and it wasn’t granted its own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary during its recent revision of the letter P. Together with its noun, pogonophobia, it is usually intended humorously.

Mr Paxman’s new face fuzz has attracted the attention of pogonologists, who study or write about beards. Other words employing pogon include pogonic, pertaining to a beard, pogoniasis, either the growth of a beard by a woman or excessive beard growth, and Pogonophora, the systematic name for a group of deep-sea worms; their name actually means “beard bearer”, which is odd, since they don’t have mouths to cultivate them around.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 19 May 2001
Last updated 17 Aug. 2013

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-pog1.htm
Last modified: 17 August 2013.